Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (2022)


By Sean Fitzpatrick|2021-03-24T10:26:36-05:00March 20th, 2021|Categories: Abortion, Catholicism, Christianity|

Any vaccine that has been derived or developed through or in conjunction with abortion is nothing that the Christian conscience can accept. And it would be a relief if Christians could hear a message of clarity and unwavering orthodoxy on this issue of issues from the leaders of the Church.

A death-dealing industry and a death-dealing illness are the horns of a dilemmathat many Catholics feel caught up in, and the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine has brought new heat to the debate. Of course, as Catholics, we heed the battle cry, “death before sin,” and refuse to participate in the evil of abortion (i.e., murder), an evil from which the Johnson & Johnson vaccine derives its existence. And it would be a very good thing if this was the battle cry coming loud and clear from our bishops instead of their beating around the abortion bush.

On March 2, Bishop Kevin Rhoades, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Doctrine,and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, issued astatementon the new single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine recently approved for use in the United States. This particular vaccine has been reported as a preferred vaccination option since it can be maintained in standard refrigeration storage and administered in a single dose, making it more efficient in some ways than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. As we all know, vaccines have been created for decades using human cell lines, and they have been successful in inoculating against measles, smallpox, and rubella. These cell lines, however, were derived from aborted babies, such as HEK-293, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was derived from this murder.

While the USCCB statement communicates caution regarding the profound moral quandaryposed by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to its direct derivation from the cell lines of aborted babies, it is disconcerting to hear it couched in language that seems to intend ambivalence or some sort of social correctness—as though abortion and its toxic fruits were merely a mild matter that raises “additional moral concern” and “questions about the moral permissibility.” Soft terms indeed for hard truths. By all appearances, there is a collective refusal on the part of our bishops to take the moral consequences of some vaccines as seriously as they should because they are too swept up in fearing the pandemic as much as secular society says they should—namely, as if it were a worldwide wave of the Black Death, which it isn’t.

The bishops give due warning of Johnson & Johnson’s immoral vaccine, but they conclude, “While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.” What seems to be missing here is that even remote cooperation in the evil of abortion is against the common good. Catholics can insist, but shouldn’t theyrefuse? They can object, but shouldn’t they boycott and stop the cash flow that perpetuates the bloodshed? In general, Catholics who choose to be vaccinated should certainly choose a vaccine that has been judged as morally and ethically uncompromising and uncontroversial due to its removal from evil; for, while they cannot participate any longer in an evil already committed, harmmaybe caused through abstinence.

There are heavy implications attached to these hypotheticals, which is why it’s vexing that the USCCB statement includes a citation from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stating “when ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available…it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process.” Why this insistence from our bishops to float the possibility of supporting gravely illicit products as though the population was hanging in the balance, putting unnecessary emphasis on the Church’s teachings regarding problematic vaccines and the priority of public health? Is COVID-19 so deadly a disease that it merits muddying the moral waters for confused or uninformed Catholics swirling in a sea of contradiction? Why would the bishops follow suit in this way regarding vaccine options for Catholics and not be crystal clear about the role and nature of abortion in all of this?

This question is especially poignant given contradictory remarks from other bishops. While bishops from Louisiana and Vermont raised similar warnings about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Bishop Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego pulled inexplicably in the opposite direction with this statement:

Because we live in a complicated world, Catholic moral teaching is often highly complex and nuanced in its reasoning about how to navigate the issues of balancing good and evil in confronting ethical choices. But on the concrete moral and pastoral question of receiving the Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or Astra-Zeneca vaccines, I want to make clear to the Catholic communities of San Diego and Imperial Counties that in the current pandemic moment, with limited vaccine options available to achieve healing for our nation and our world, it is entirely morally legitimate to receive any of these four vaccines, and to recognize, as Pope Francis has noted, that in receiving them we are truly showing love for our neighbor and our God.

Again, why frame a rationale for a grave moral evil when it is not absolutely unavoidable, and when Catholics should be receiving cut and dry guidance in this matter of all matters? It is no secret that the Catholic world is unsure about these vaccinations and their connection to the intrinsic evil of abortion. And with the pope and the pope emeritus publicly announcing their own vaccination against COVID-19, there is a good deal to be unsure about. Acknowledging all this, the bishops should make a greater effort to unite their front and emphasize what has been unfortunately and increasingly de-emphasized in the ever-mounting Catholic concern over supportingin any wayan industry that condones and causes the murder of children and the harvesting and sale of human body parts. This genocide istheevil of our times and it should be called out and condemned in no uncertain terms. COVID-19 doesn’t hold a candle to it.

As has been said before, the Church’s ties to the federal government through its non-profit statusoften make our bishops unable or unwilling to take the stand that is sorely needed. As officers of tax-exempt corporations, they are too hampered by legal requirements and too used to kowtowing in the veiled language of social acceptance, social justice, and social mandates, even when it comes to the urgent moral concessions that threaten the strength of the Church in America. That is, if they speak at all. Many are silent, which is even worse. Bishops should be free and willing to speak openly and directly to their flock about our civil and moral obligations as Catholics, especially in these times of mass confusion and paranoia. But the 501(c)(3) laws prohibit political affiliation and action, and if the pandemic is anything it is political, diverting Catholic organizations like the USCCB with bureaucratic red tape and the temptation of financial opportunity through doctrinal ambiguity.

And so, Catholics are left with statements like this, that get at the good but seemingly leave the door open to evil as well:

If one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s.

Again, why put Johnson & Johnson on the table when people aren’t dying in the street? Say what you will about our many social obligations, there is onlyonesocial doctrine, and it isn’t about social distancing, or immigration, or racism, or climate change, or LGBTQ rights—it is about favoring life, life itself, from conception to natural death. If we are so concerned about public health, the common good, and human life, then the abortion epidemic should be at the top of the list of our concerns and questions. Period. There are other single issues out there that animate the Left especially—whether it be gay “marriage,” transgender acceptance, or global warming—but these are not considered as stunted in position as is the anti-abortion position. The drive to help the living, whether the sick or the suffering, only seems to exist on this side of the womb and is yet another form of the madness we are facing and must fight.

It would be good, to put it mildly, to have our bishops sounding a clarion call of truth in these days instead of churning out the same garbled fare that is making our heads spin. We cannot control the virus, and we certainly cannot choose to control it by immoral means. Any vaccine that has been derived or developed through or in conjunction with abortion is nothing that the Catholic conscience can accept. And it would be a relief if Catholics could hear a message of clarity and unwavering orthodoxy on this issue of issues from the leaders of the Catholic Church.

Republished with gracious permission from Crisis magazine (March 2021).

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About the Author: Sean Fitzpatrick

Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (3)

Sean Fitzpatrick serves on the faculty of Gregory the Great Academy, a Catholic boarding school for boys in Pennsylvania. A native of Ottawa, Canada, and a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College, Mr. Fitzpatrick taught literature, mythology, and poetry for ten years and is a children’s book illustrator and an aspiring author.

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  1. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (9)

    KatherineMar 21, 2021 at 9:13 am - Reply


    I have listened to the verbal gymnastics from the Church’s “moral and ethics” experts – I have heard them interviewed on EWTN radio, I have heard them further quoted by a myriad of priests, religious, and church leaders, I have heard them echoed in our own Prolife office in my Archdiocese. And both my heart and my brain were troubled.

    Troubled in part because the language works so hard to explain that yes, this is evil, but not really evil for You. Because you are removed from the act so you can partake in the fruits of the act freely. Just remember to register your discontent aloud. – In what other moral act is this acceptable?

    And my mind was breaking because all of this is declared because a picture has been painted by both government and media that the only option available to us is Vaccine or Death.

    Yet the vaccine is not a ticket to freedom and any discussion or questions is tarred and feathered as “Anti-Vaxx” instead of healthy and important dialogue.

    Also missing from the current snapshot is the recognition that none of these vaccines have proven safety, that all are experimental. Every person who takes one is fulfilling the role of guinea pig. Animal rights and ethics are a valid arena for debate and discussion in medical research. So are HUMAN rights. Where are the debates and discussions now?

    We now know that there are Medical options and successful interventions for people who are the most vulnerable and in the hospital, including specific protocols including steroids, Ivermectin, and vitamin D.

    Yet there are still cases of sudden and surprising deaths that are attributed to covid, because of underlying conditions.

    We also know that the best way for us as humans to battle this Flu and any variants is to work to ensure our immune systems are strong and ready to defend.

    If our society can mandate masks and distancing and shutdowns and horror show conditions with devastating consequences – why cannot it instead encourage behaviors that build the beautiful immune systems God gave us?

    How many of us have taken steps to lose a little weight, exercise and move, get sunshine each morning, breathe fresh air, drink more water, choose healthier meals, laugh with friends, talk with family, get regular rest, wash hands well, and pray always?

    These are the most ethical and efficacious means to combat this disease. And a host of others.

    Why are our doctors and church leaders not emphasizing this route for our global health and wellbeing?

    Take care of ourselves, take care of our families, take care of our neighbors.

  2. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (10)

    John PrevitiMar 21, 2021 at 10:52 am - Reply

    Well said!!
    Vivat Jesu!

  3. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (11)

    ADDavisMar 21, 2021 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Thank you, both, for speaking out with clarity on this issue and moral dilemma mixed with decent common sense.

  4. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (12)

    David DeCleeneMar 21, 2021 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    That is a lightning bolt of clarity, Mr. Fitzpatrick, through a sky overcast with thick black clouds of nuance, of ambiguity, of moral cowardice. And this is over our Church courtyards!

    I will look around for more of your writings.

  5. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (13)

    Peter FettnerMar 22, 2021 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    Is it morally permissible to refuse the COVID vaccines? To do so is to endanger not only yourself, but those around you. And to refuse the vaccine on the basis of care for human life is, quite simply, absurd. From an amoral, Darwinian perspective, however, there’s a kind of rough justice if communities of anti-vaxxers or religious extremists are culled by their refusal of treatment.

    • Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (14)

      Julie StewartMar 23, 2021 at 6:25 pm - Reply

      Just wait until the side effects show up. Also, some of us have already had and recovered from full blown COVID. Why do we need whatever is in this shot?

  6. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (15)

    TJGMar 22, 2021 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    For me, the clincher is that, though the cell lines used in developing these vaccines derived from an aborted child, the child was NOT aborted to obtain these cell lines. The circumstance is very much analogous to harvesting a kidney from the victim of a traffic fatality. Of course, unlike an organ donor, the child did not consent to have his/her body used in this way, but this is a secondary concern: absence of consent is not a violation of the fifth commandment, nor is it as grievous., at least in my opinion.

    That this child was put to death is tragic. Let us derive some good from his/her horrible sacrifice, lest he/she have been conceived only to have been put to death in vain.

  7. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (16)

    vincent capuanoMar 23, 2021 at 8:52 am - Reply

    Most of the talk I hear to justify the remote participation in an evil act is to focus on the remoteness of the abortion. What about the direct participation in the proximate evil of profiteering from harvested baby parts. If buying stolen car parts is participation in the sin of others even if it passes through the hands of several middlemen than how much more is the participation in the evil of a product derived from baby parts. There is direct participation in the commerce while there is indirect remote participation in the actual theft or murder of the aborted child. Planned Parenthood like the care thief would not commit their crime if it were not profitable.

  8. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (17)

    Julie StewartMar 23, 2021 at 6:23 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this article. It’s the first coherent articulation of the TRUE Catholic position I have seen. You made my day.

  9. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (18)

    Rev. John Patrick HarringtonMar 23, 2021 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    Mr. Fitzpatrick raises some very thought provoking questions and proceeds to answer some of them drawing on the Church’s catholic moral teaching. Taking the vaccine is morally impermissible because abortion is morally impermissible and the vaccine, as he says, is made with stem-cells from aborted children. The moral principle at stake here is the “ends do not justify the means” which the Church, from time immemorial, has always taught, namely, that one can not do evil to bring about “good.”

    No one questions the purpose of the COVID Vaccines to immunize the population from getting and spreading Covid-19, a virus that has killed millions of people world wide. Dr. Fauci and the CDC agree that the vaccines will save people from suffering and dying. A perfectly noble and good “end”; however, this noble end does not justify abortion, the direct killing of an innocent, defenseless, vulnerable human being as a “means” for the harvesting of its stem cells. To do so is a moral evil and therefore morally impermissible.

  10. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (19)

    Andrew SaucciMar 24, 2021 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    The part that keeps getting overlooked is that even if we accept that a vaccine is morally acceptable, that does not equal a duty or an obligation on the part of anyone to be vaccinated. Morality is a bare minimum standard. What I see happening is that everyone instantly equates morality with duty, which is simply false. We need clearer teaching on that point: an action may be moral, but not necessarily smart or even the wisest course of action.

  11. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (20)

    JJMar 25, 2021 at 10:57 pm - Reply

    A comment above stated, “For me, the clincher is that, though the cell lines used in developing these vaccines derived from an aborted child, the child was NOT aborted to obtain these cell lines.”
    I don’t think that is true. From a LifeSite interview with a former researcher in this area and a video of the deposition (I think) of a researcher who developed these kinds of cell lines, the babies had to have their parts harvested immediately in order to be “useful” to those scientists. It was not at all analogous to harvesting the organs of someone who happened to die in a traffic accident. Perhaps one person in the room wasn’t thinking about profiting from the abortion through the cell lines it could produce, but it seems the holder of the scalpel would have been thinking about little else.

  12. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (21)

    G MilliganMar 29, 2021 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    I forget what the E stands for but the H and K of HEK 293 stands for human kidney. The 293 stands for the number of abortions done before a child’s kidney was successfully harvested for use.No anesthesia was administered to any of the children, and their organs were harvested while they were still alive since anesthesia would interfere with kidney function.
    You are right this is not like organ donation after an accident, nothing like it.

  13. Is It Morally Permissible to Receive the COVID Vaccines? (22)

    Clair FavelaApr 11, 2021 at 12:07 am - Reply

    Why take an immoral, experimental vaccine for a virus that most healthy people have a 99 percentage rate of survival with appropriate early medical care? Doctors now know how to treat Covid 19 with inexpensive drugs. This whole pandemic has been politicized and the global population fed a constant propaganda of fear. With the appropriate vitamins, D, Zinc, and C, we all can help our immune systems to better protect us.

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